Thursday, April 16, 2015

THURSDAY APRIL 16TH
CLASSES CANCELED

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

English 1C: Schedule, CONOVER, NEWJACK, Prison topics




Week 12
T 4/7
Revision Due: Research Essay (aka Essay #4)
Bring Conover’s Newjack to class
In-class re: prison life: The Farm & Abu Ghraib

Th 4/9
Class canceled

Week 13
Tues. 4/14
from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO read the preface-18; find online:
You don't need to print it out.
For information about Solzhenitsy, go here to his The Nobel Prize site. He won the Nobel in 1970. You can watch a video on Solzhenitsyn's life at this page.

At English with McCabe's Conover post read at least three of the articles and view videos on false convictions (LOOK FOR [*****] below for False Conviction topic.)
Newjack by Ted Conover (beginning-94)

Th 4/16
Newjack (95-126)

Week 14
T 4/21
Newjack (126-209)

Th 4/23
Newjack (210-241)

Week 15
T 4/28
Newjack (242-303)

Th 4/30
Newjack (304-319)

Week 16 - Final Exam 
(aka Essay #5) re: Newjack  (Bring a Blue book)
Is this correct? Here and on your syllabus?

#English 1C that meets Tuesday/Thursday: 9:45-11:50
#Final Exam: Tuesday May 5th, 10:15-12:15 P.M.


#English 1C that meets Tuesday/Thursday: 1:00-3:05
#Final Exam: Tuesday May 5th, 1:00-3:00 P.M.


See Ted Conover's websiteIt is worth a visit. Check out his blog post Yo, CO! Vinny Retires. It gives a nice insight into Conover and his former CO colleagues. Unfortunately, Conover's  interview with Charlie Rose is no longer available at his website here or on the Charlie Rose website. (But try it again; it might get reposted.) However, I have a copy of the interview, so we will (and did) watch it in class. 

At Conover's blog: Rehab at Sing Sing, May 22, 2012.  Here's the first two paragraphs of Conover's reflections: 
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is still considered contraband in New York state prisons – at least until the seven pages deemed a threat to security back in 2000 have been torn out. But though my book can’t come in whole, it appears that, as of last week, I can.
Rehabilitation Through The Arts, which helps stage a play at Sing Sing every year, invited me to see the inmate production of  “A Few Good Men.” To my surprise, Sing Sing approved my visit and then Albany said okay, as well. I was rehabilitated, politically speaking – and last Friday, for the first time since I turned in my badge in 1998, I passed back through the prison gate.
Go to Rehab at Sing Sing, May 22, 2012 to read more.

Conover also wrote "A Snitch’s Dilemma," about Alex White for The New York Times, June 29, 2012.  If there was ever a "secrets, lies and spies" story, this is it.  Here's the first paragraph:

"Kathryn Johnston was doing pretty well until the night the police showed up. Ever since her sister died, Johnston, 92, had lived alone in a rough part of Atlanta called the Bluff. A niece checked in often. One of the gifts she left was a pistol, so that her aunt might protect herself."

If you like, read the rest of Conover's story about Alex "the Snitch" White, a member of the Black Mafia Family, and "Behind the Cover Story: Ted Conover on the Murky World of the Snitch" for Conover's point-of-view about his article.

Conover also has a report on a slaughterhouse in Harper's, May 2013. 


From Harper's May 2013 issue
The Way of All Flesh
Undercover in an industrial slaughterhouse
By Ted Conover

Here's the first two paragraphs:

The cattle arrive in perforated silver trailers called cattle pots that let in wind and weather and vent out their hot breath and flatus. It’s hard to see inside a cattle pot. The drivers are in a hurry to unload and leave, and are always speeding by. (When I ask Lefty how meat gets bruised, he says, “You ever see how those guys drive?”) The trucks have come from feedlots, some nearby, some in western Nebraska, a few in Iowa. The plant slaughters about 5,100 cattle each day, and a standard double-decker cattle pot holds only about forty, so there’s a constant stream of trucks pulling in to disgorge, even before the line starts up a little after six a.m.

First the cattle are weighed. Then they are guided into narrow outdoor pens angled diagonally toward the entrance to the kill floor. A veterinarian arrives before our shift and begins to inspect them; she looks for open wounds, problems walking, signs of disease. When their time comes, the cattle will be urged by workers toward the curving ramp that leads up into the building. The ramp has a roof and no sharp turns. It was designed by the livestock expert Temple Grandin, and the curves and penumbral light are believed to soothe the animals in their final moments. But the soothing goes only so far.

The story continues at Harper's, but it only offers limited access to its magazine online, including the above Conover article. You may be able to find the full-text through EbscoHost, a database available through the PCC Shatford Library.



Sing Sing Prison Cell

RECOMMENDED: C-SPAN did a video documentary on Sing Sing in 1997, close to the time Conover was there. To watch the unedited footage go here and see inside Sing Sing, from correction officers to inmates, locked cells to its history and architecture.


William M. Vander Weyde (American, 1871-1929).
 Electric chair at Sing Sing, ca. 1900,
 glass plate negative.


RECOMMENDED: PBS Frontline has posted online "The New Asylums," its  report about prisons housing the mentally ill. Produced in 2005, the program runs about 60 minutes. It is introduced with these words:

"Fewer than 55,000 Americans currently receive treatment in psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, almost 10 times that number -- nearly 500,000 -- mentally ill men and women are serving time in U.S. jails and prisons. As sheriffs and prison wardens become the unexpected and often ill-equipped caretakers of this burgeoning population, they raise a troubling new concern: Have America's jails and prisons become its new asylums?"


FIRST QUESTIONS FOR CLASS DISCUSSION



1. What makes a good corrections office, in your opinion? If you were a warden, would you hire Conover as a corrections officer?  Why or why not?

2. On page eight Conover writes that after making eye contact with the prisoners he got a “sense that grows of the human dimension of this colony.” What does this mean?

3. Why would a professional enforce another officer’s questionable demand to keep a prisoner locked up? (See page 102 when a CO is asked to enforce a rule that wasn’t a rule.)

4. Why would one officer (in this case Wickersham) humiliate another officer in front of the prisoners? (See page 110 and the line, “Do you have a problem with picking this inmates comb off the floor?”)

5. With reference to page 122: Conover writes about being a correction officer from a man’s perspective, and he says that the job is depressing, tiring, and stressful. There are also female prison guards working in the male prison. Do these females go through the same emotional rollercoaster or are they more likely to be taunted by the inmates than male prison guards?

6. Study the Jack Henry Abbott quote on page 126. Does this quote reveal prison life as described by Conover? Explain.

7. Based on Conover's experience and understanding of other COs, does learning about your prospective prisoners serve as a positive or negative in being able to maintain control?  Explain.

8. In the Charlie Rose interview, Conover briefly mentoned that the frustration he went through at the prison followed him home.  Do you think Conover believes it is possible for guards to leave their frustration in the work place?  Explain.

9. Why would a C.O. (in this case St. George) choose not to write a prisoner up when said prisoner has cearly disobeyed some rules? (86)  A follow-up question: Conover writes that "Smith succeeded because he viewed the inmates as human beings." (87)  What does Conover mean by this?

10. What is the point of the Academy if it doesn't prepare you for the real thing? (94)


Newjack by Ted Conover
Discussion Questions Suggested by Students

1. On page eight Conover writes that after making eye contact with the prisoners he got a “sense that grows of the human dimension of this colony.” What does this mean?

2. On page 99 in the last couple of sentences of the first paragraph, we find that Conover was told, “you’re going to learn, CO, that some things they taught you in the Academy can get you killed.” This can be either a threat or advice. What does it say about the prison system that what you were taught could cost you your life? Offer five examples from Newjack to develop your discussion.

3. Why would a professional enforce another officer’s questionable demand to keep a prisoner locked up? (See page 102 when a CO is asked to enforce a rule that wasn’t a rule.)

4. Why would one officer (in this case Wickersham) humiliate another officer in front of the prisoners? (See page 110 and the line, “Do you have a problem with picking this inmates comb off the floor?”)

5. With reference to page 122: Conover writes about being a correction officer from a man’s perspective, and he says that the job is depressing, tiring, and stressful. There are also female prison guards working in the male prison. Do these females go through the same emotional rollercoaster or are they more likely to be taunted by the inmates than male prison guards?

6. In Chapter 5 (171-209) Conover gives the reader background on the jail system and the development of electrocution. Why does he present this information and what was he trying to convey by discussing these topics? Offer five examples from throughout Newjack to support your position.

7. Study the Jack Henry Abbott quote on page 126. Does this quote reveal prison life as described by Conover? Explain.

8. What importance is Conover’s report of the suicide watch to his story about Sing Sing?

9. Why is Lewis Lawes so important to Sing Sing’s history? Why does Conover bother to tell us about him? (Pages 199-202)

10. What does Conover mean when he says, “I was probably somewhere in between”? (221) What does this say about Conover’s personality and his connection to prison life? In support of your position give  five specific examples from Newjack where Conover is “in between.”

11. Name five examples of race as a topic for Conover to discuss in his book. How is racial issues significant (or not) to life in Sing Sing?


View to the northwest, with B-Block on the left, A-Block to the right and
Messhall Building in the middle. B-Block yard, with more grass than at present, lies
 in the left foreground. This was probably taken in the 1960s. from Ted Conover's website.


Newjack by Ted Conover More Discussion Questions Suggested by Students
 
1. Do you think Conover is consistent when attempting to challenge the stereotypical views of prison life? For example, do you still view prisoners as victims? Or do you now feel sympathy for prison guards?

2. Do you feel content with what Conover has illustrated in Newjack? Or do you feel like certain scenarios have been left out? Is spending one year at Sing Sing enough time to really become familiar with a prison guard’s lifestyle?

3. Why does Conover place one or more epigraphs at the beginning of every chapter in Newjack? Does he use them to strengthen the argument that he is trying to make within the chapter, or does he offer them as counter examples to what he believes? Explain.

4. On page 142 Conover states, “No one, as far as I could see, improved in prison.” Do you think this--with reference to Newjack--also applies to the prison guards? Why?

5. Throughout the book Conover italicizes words and phrases such as “the cure” (142), “he” (150), “support” (155). Italics are usually used for emphasis or to show importance, but why is Conover italicizing these words?

6. At the end of their day in the Visit Room, Colton says, “It’s a regular Hallmark card” (156). What does he mean?

7. Do you think that correction officers “control” the inmates of the inmates “control” the correction officers? (234)

8.  The title of Chapter 7, "My Heart Inside Out," is taken from from Anne Frank's diary.  Who does it apply to in this chapter?  Why?

9. Why was it most common for things to go wrong in the prison with inmates during the holidays? Why is it that most suicides occur around that time of year? (294)

10. How hard was it for Conover to work as a CO with the prisoners? Give five examples from Newjack of the good and the bad for him, and then argue whether or not Conover was comfortable in the role of prison guard.

Original cell block at Sing Sing. from Ted Conover's website.


Newjack by Ted Conover EVEN MORE QUESTIONS Suggested by Students

1.  Conover writes, "The process of breaking a man simply takes longer and costs more.  Does it represent injustice or tyranny?  That depends on your point of view." (136)  What is Conover's point of view?  Discuss with five examples from Newjack.

2.  Explain why Conover writes at length about the history of Sing Sing and the death penalty.  Point to several examples from the book.


3. Based on Conover's experience and understanding of other COs, does learning about your prospective prisoners serve as a positive or negative in being able to maintain control?  Explain.

4.  Does Conover offer a fair representation of his superiors (as corrections officers) or does he seem set on making them look like bad guys?  Explain with five examples from Newjack.

5. In the Charlie Rose interview, Conover briefly mentoned that the frustration he went through at the prison followed him home.  Do you think Conover believes it is possible for guards to leave their frustration in the work place?  Explain.

6. Why is race such an important part of Sing Sing prison?  Point to several examples from Newjack as you discuss the question.

7. What makes a good corrections office, in your opinion? If you were a warden, would you hire Conover as a corrections officer?  Why or why not?

8.  Do you think Conover's first day on the "gallery" was as stressful as any other OJT's?  Do you think it was less or more stressful, considering that he is an established writer and journalist?


9.  Turn to pages 123-26 (and other pages, too) as you discuss Conover's experience with inmates as a corrections officer, writer, and citizen. With reference to five examples from Newjack, does Conover compartmentalize (i.e., divide) his perspective as corrections officer, writer, and citizen?   Or not? Explain.

10. Why would a C.O. (in this case St. George) choose not to write a prisoner up when said prisoner has cearly disobeyed some rules? (86)  A follow-up question: Conover writes that "Smith succeeded because he viewed the inmates as human beings." (87)  What does Conover mean by this?

11. What is the point of the Academy if it doesn't prepare you for the real thing? (94)

Conover in his correction officer uniform at Sing Sing Prison

The Supreme Court made an important decision regarding prison conditions in California.  From The New York Times, May 23, 2011, article, "Justices, 5-4, Tell California to Cut Prisoner Population": "Conditions in California’s overcrowded prisons are so bad that they violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday, ordering the state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates." The Los Angeles Times story on the Supreme Court decision can be found here.  KQED has also posted an audio interview about the decision.


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Angola Prison: In Newjack, Conover mentions the documentary The Farm: Life Inside Angola, that we saw in class. If you missed it, you can watch it online here.  Wish to see the sequel to it?  Watch The Farm: 10 Down, made ten years after the original in the series. Go to nola.com for a profile of filmmaker Jonathan Stack and his work on the first  documentary and its sequel about the prison.

Learn more about Angola and the life of one prisoner who spent 41 years in solitary confinement for the crime of killing a prison guard.  The inmate, Herman Wallace, died of cancer just three days after a judge overturned his conviction. NPR reported that "Wallace's conviction [was overturned] on the grounds that he had been denied a fair trial because he was indicted by a grand jury comprised solely of men — in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment."


This photo of Glenn Ford was taken by his lawyer on March 11, 2014—Ford's first day of freedom
 after 30 years in prison—near St. Francisville, Louisiana. (Gary Clements)

"Glenn Ford's First Days of Freedom After 30 Years on Death Row" in The Atlantic monthly by Andrew Cohen, March 14, 2014. Imprisoned since the Reagan's first tem as president, a man tastes freedom.

"Anywhere he wanted to go, the jubilant defense attorneys told a hungry Glenn Ford late Tuesday afternoon as they left the television cameras behind, piled into their car, and left the yawning grounds of Louisiana's notorious Angola prison. Ford was hungry, very hungry, because from the moment he had learned that he would be released from death row—after serving 30 years there for a murder he did not commit—he had decided that he would not eat another morsel of prison food." Read the rest of the article here.


Los Angeles TimesNovember 27, 2012
Louisiana State Penitentiary [Angola aka The Farm] hosts a popular, long-running prison rodeo, where inmates, many facing life sentences, compete for prizes and a bit of respect.

ANGOLA, La. — In the middle of the rodeo arena, the four men could smell manure from the animal pens and cracklins and caramel corn from the stands as they steadied themselves in their plastic lawn chairs, spread their hands on the red card table in front of them and planted their feet in the mud.
They were bracing for the bull.
Once it was turned loose, the last one sitting in this game called Convict Poker would win. . . .
Louisiana State Penitentiary was once a plantation, Angola, named for the origin of its slaves. Inmates work the fields for 2 cents an hour at what is now the largest maximum-security prison in the country, an 18,000-acre compound about 50 miles north of Baton Rouge that's home to the state's death row and more than 6,200 other prisoners, many of them murderers, armed robbers and rapists (who aren't allowed at the rodeo).
Click here for the full story.




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Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour

Episode 6: Jail (From Season 1) 




(prison noises)
It’s night time in the big city
A truck driver runs a red light
A strange quiet man practices tae chi in a park
“The Big House, the brig, the clink, the coop, the gray bar hotel, the hoosegow, the joint , the jug, the pen, the pokie, the slammer, the stir”

jailThe Singers and Songs

“A little bit of swamp pop from Louisiana, which fused R & B, Country, Cajun, and Creole, a real Brasshopper mixture. And, just like Ringo, he’s a singing drummer.”
“Gus Cannon, one of the best-known of all jug band musicians, made himself a special harness, so he could wear his jug around his neck and play banjo at the same time.”
  • Kenny Lane and his Bull Dogs: Columbus Stockade Blues
  • Joe SimonNine Pound Steel
  • Jimmy PattonOkie’s In The Pokie
“A thick slab of rockabilly madness…soundin’ funky drunk and full steam ahead.”
(Click here for complete notes on this episodes at The Bob Dylan Fan Club)

************************************************

False Convictions 
People go to prison for crimes they did not commit. Addressing this issue, The Innocence Project has helped free 303 people. based on DNA evidence, as of April 6, 2013. Affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo.School of Law at Yeshiva University. the Innocence Project was instrumental in helping Brian Banks get his rightful freedom. See, below, an interview with exoneree Brian Banks and his attorney Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project.



First Exoneree to Play Professional Football Inks a Deal With Atlanta Falcons
Posted by the Innocence Project here: April 4, 2013 4:20 pm

Nearly one year after kidnapping and rape charges against a former Southern California high school football player were dismissed, Brian Banks’ dreams to play professional football were fulfilled Wednesday when he inked a deal with the Atlanta Falcons.


The alleged victim claimed that she had been forced to the school’s basement and raped without a condom, but DNA testing did not find sperm on her underwear. Banks was exonerated after the alleged victim was video recorded denying that any crime had taken place.

As a collegiate prospect with a verbal commitment to play at the University of Southern California, Banks was forced to set aside his dreams in 2002 when he took a plea deal to avoid trial and the risk of a lengthy prison sentence. After a five-year stint in prison he was forced to register as a sex offender and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Following his exoneration last May, Banks, who was represented by the California Innocence Project, received calls from several professional football teams and was invited for workouts and tryouts.

Watch Banks and California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks, above, talk more about Banks’ story and what it means to go pro on MSNBC’s Politics Now.
Yusef Salaam is escorted by police in a scene
 from the documentary "The Central Park Five."
 
(Clarence Davis / NY Daily News Archive / 

November 29, 2012)
More False Convictions
People go to prison and some released--just ask Yusef Salaam, above--for crimes they did not commit, as some students discovered during past semesters for their research papers. The Washington Post reported a story about an Ohio man falsely convicted and released on December 9, 2014. NBC News also reported on this story. Four articles from the Los Angeles Times examine wrongful convictions with a special focus on the Central Park Five and a recent documentary about the case:  "A 10-year nightmare over rape conviction is over," May 25, 2012, "Cannes 2012: Ken Burns' 'Central Park Five' explores famous crime," May 24, 2012, "A Voice at Last for the 'Central Park Five," November 28, 2012  and a "Review: Devastating 'The Central Park Five' details injustice," November 30, 2012. 

from the PBS website for THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE:

THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, a new film from award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns, tells the story of the five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City’s Central Park in 1989. The film chronicles The Central Park Jogger case, for the first time from the perspective of these five teenagers whose lives were upended by this miscarriage of justice.  Here is the trailer for the documentary broadcast on PBS:


New, April 14, 2015
"Man Convicted in Murder Investigated by Scarcella Is Ordered Freed," The New York Times, April 14, 2015.

By MARC SANTORA and NATE SCHWEBER

More than two decades after Rosean S. Hargrave was convicted of murdering an off-duty correction officer in Brooklyn, a judge on Tuesday afternoon ordered him released from prison, saying that his trial was deeply flawed and unfair.

The case against Mr. Hargrave was built, in part, on the work of Detective Louis Scarcella and his partner, Stephen W. Chmil, and it is one of dozens of cases that have come under review since accusations emerged that Mr. Scarcella once framed an innocent man.

The scrutiny of Mr. Scarcella’s work has led the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to move to have several convictions thrown out, but this ruling marks a first time that a judge has conducted an independent review of a Scarcella case and found profound problems.

Justice ShawnDya L. Simpson of (New York's) State Supreme Court offered a scathing review of Mr. Scarcella’s record, finding that his work as a detective fundamentally compromised the defendant’s right to a fair trial.


Continue reading the above New York Times news report here.

Friends and family members of Rosean S. Hargrave at a hearing Tuesday in which he was ordered released from prison. Mr. Hargrave was one of two teenagers convicted of shooting two correction officers, killing one, in 1991. 
Credit
Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

*********************************

A former prosecutor wearing a suit writes: "I Got Myself Arrested So I Could Look Inside the Justice System" by Bobby Constantino, in The Atlantic, December 17, 2013. The Los Angeles Times of November 24, 2014, reported "California's Longest-serving Wrongfully Convicted Inmate is a Free Man," and it can be found here.


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What is "Club Fed"? Here is one story, "The Secrets of White Collar Prisons," from Dujour 

Tip: "How to Beat a Polygraph Test." Read this from The New York Times, By Malia Wollanapril, April 10, 2015.

English 9 (Creative Nonfiction) Schedule & Rolling Stone article

This schedule is tentative.
It might be updated, 
so check it twice daily.

Mon. 3/23
Revision Due: Profile of Place/Person #2
Student Manuscript Readings
Best American Essay groups meet
Wed. 3/25
Brian Turner Readings (find them on English with McCabe). 
For Turner: review the whole post on English with McCabe, but read the two excerpts from his memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, the New York Times Book Review, and the article from the Telegraph.
Best American Essay group essays and dates assigned
Mon. 3/30
CN: Pearson (45)
Brian Turner Readings
Tue. 3/31
PCC closed - Cesar Chavez Holiday
Wed. 4/1
Best American Essay group (Art, Victoria, Augusto)
Best: Baxter's "What Happens in Hell" (142)
In-class: Brian Turner Readings
Thurs. 4/2
Borders of Diversity Conference with Brian Turner
Mon. 4/6
CN: Dillard (357)
See Creative Nonfiction's Issue #55, Spring 2015, The Memoir Issue.
Wed. 4/8
Best American Essay group (Eva, Graham, Nick Serki): Sullivan's "Ghost Estates" (236)
Best American Essay group (Jessica, Marissa, Nick Sanchez): Yang's "Field Notes on Hair" (217)
Rolling Stone Univ. of VA article
On Monday, 4/6/15, Alex initiated a discussion and others joined in, raising questions about the Rolling Stone article about the alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.  The New Yorker's George Packer writes about the topic in an April 6, 2015 column. If you wish to read Packer's column, (and I recommend that you do, though this is not a class requirement), try this link. You can also find Packer's column, "Rolling Stone and the Temptation of Narrative Journalism," at the bottom of this post.  

Mon. 4/13
Class Canceled
Due: Memoir Draft (Typed 7-8 pages.) Leave one copy with the English Dept., C245, by Monday April 13th, 5:00PM. Get it time-stamped. Be sure your name and my name is on your draft.

Wed. 4/15

Class visit with Tracy Dolezal Macrum of South Pasadena Review, The Quarterly Magazine &
SouthPasadenaNow.com
Review SouthPasadenaNow.com and copies of The Quarterly distributed earlier in the semester.
Best American Essay group (Mavi, Acacia): Mirsky's "Epilogue" (266). Everyone reads essay.
Bring one copy of your Memoir Draft to class


Mon. 4/20
BRING A COPY OF YOUR MEMOIR TO CLASS
Best American Essay group (Mavi, Acacia): Mirsky's "Epilogue" (266). 
Best American Essay group (Casey, Alex, Andrew): Munro's "Night" (17)
Best: Daniels (225)

Wed. 4/22
Best: Gilb (254)
Best: Smith (188)

Mon. 4/27
Revision Due: Memoir (Typed 7-8 pages)
Student Manuscript Readings

Wed. 4/29
Student Manuscript Readings

Monday, May 4th, 10:15 AM—12:15 PM
Final Exam Meeting
Inscape Submissions Due today by 9:00 A.M.
Send it to me at cjmccabe@pasadena.edu
See Inscape Submission Guidelines for Details



The New Yorker, April 6, 2015
Rolling Stone and the Temptations of Narrative Journalism

BY GEORGE PACKER

On Sunday, the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism released an exhaustive report on the Rolling Stone story from last November depicting a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia. Some of what’s contained in it was already known, both from follow-up reporting in other publications, especially the Washington Post, immediately after the original article appeared, and from the Charlottesville, Virginia, police department’s investigation, which was made public last month. First and most important, the account of the supposed victim—referred to only as “Jackie” by the Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely—is not at all supported by independent facts. Erdely never located the supposed ringleader of the gang rape—“Drew” in the story, a lifeguard and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother—and his existence cannot be established. Erdely never approached the three friends whom Jackie quoted as sounding coldly unsympathetic after she told them about the rape, and all three deny saying the things attributed to them. Records show that Phi Kappa Psi held no social event of the kind Jackie described on the night she said she was raped there. The debacle—for Rolling Stone’s reporter and editors; for the University of Virginia and Phi Kappa Psi; for rape victims whose willingness to come forward could be checked by this sensationally popular story’s false claims; and for Jackie, whose motives and true experience remain unknown—was already pretty clear by early December, two weeks after the article’s publication, when Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, posted a note to readers announcing that “there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” (The next day, in the face of criticism, Dana revised that language, and added, “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”) By then, Erdely’s active Twitter account had gone dark.


What Rolling Stone did not say outright last December was how profoundly it had misplaced its trust in itself. With a nearly thirteen-thousand-word investigation by Columbia’s Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll (who is a staff writer at this magazine), and Derek Kravitz, that is now a moot point. The report deals a devastating blow to the magazine’s decision-making, from start to finish, in bringing “A Rape on Campus” to millions of readers. In doing so, the report displays the kind of thorough reporting and careful analysis that was lacking at Rolling Stone. (Commissioned, admirably, by Rolling Stone as an independent review with almost no prior constraints, it went up on the magazine’s Web site in its entirety on Sunday night, and a condensed version will be published in the print edition.)

In a footnote, the authors call their report “a work of journalism about a failure of journalism.” Their investigation, like the original article, takes the form of a roughly chronological narrative. It begins with the exploratory phone call Erdely made last July to Emily Renda, a U.V.A. expert on sexual assault, looking for a campus rape case to write about. Long-form narrative nonfiction might be in dire straits financially, but it’s become the default prose genre of our time, and not just in magazine articles and books. Official publications like the findings of the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture now borrow its techniques: the use of characters, scenes, description, and dialogue; the creation of tension through pacing, foreshadowing, and recapitulation; the omniscient narrator whose sources are semi-hidden in order to preserve the elegance of storytelling. This tyranny of narrative is not unrelated to the disaster at Rolling Stone.

Any journalist who works in this form and is being honest will recognize the moments of truth that led to Erdely’s and Rolling Stone’s undoing. Like most journalists worth reading, she approached the story with a passionate purpose, a sense of injustice, of a wrong that needed to be righted. In Erdely’s case, she wanted to expose the “culture of rape” on college campuses, and she went looking for a case so vivid and gripping that no reader could dismiss it. When Renda told her about Jackie in that first conversation, Erdely found what she was looking for, and she made the decision not to pursue other, less dramatic cases that she learned about. Renda later told the Times that a more ambiguous incident might have seemed “not real enough to stand for rape culture. And that is part of the problem.” Her remark could be applied to narrative journalism as well: extreme, lurid cases are inherently tempting subjects, but they are not the most likely to lead to complex or profound or abidingly true work.

As soon as she heard Jackie’s astonishingly detailed account of the rape—seven men in a dark room, blood-chilling words, a shattered glass coffee table, a bottle used for penetration—Erdely became so invested in it that she never allowed herself to sustain any doubts. Her reasons were both personal and professional, well-intentioned and selfish. Skepticism would have meant more aggressively questioning Jackie, who appeared to be a traumatized victim of a violent attack: the report states that “the editors and Erdely have concluded that their main fault was to be too accommodating of Jackie because she described herself as the survivor of a terrible sexual assault.” But doubt also might have meant losing the whole story, with its riveting, horror-film lede, and the ammunition it contained for thunderous moral condemnation of rape culture at U.V.A.

Once Erdely had her story, she did everything possible not to let it go. She tried to learn the identity of the ringleader, telling Jackie, “I’m not going to use his name in the article, but I have to do my due diligence anyway.” Jackie froze up and offered no help, and then she stopped returning Erdely’s messages. Erdely’s editors—Will Dana, the managing editor, and Sean Woods, the story editor—had been asking her to find the ringleader, but with the article’s closing date coming up, and Jackie gone missing, they decided to abandon their due diligence. Instead, they assigned the ringleader the name Drew, without ever speaking with him. (Dana, according to the report, “said he was not even aware that Rolling Stone did not know the man’s full name and had not confirmed his existence.”)

That concession brought Jackie back on board, as the magazine intended. Why did Rolling Stone give in? It wasn’t just that Erdely and her editors had come to trust Jackie—they had less reason to trust her now than before. It was the utter necessity of keeping Jackie on the hook. With every week invested in the story, with all the time and resources it entailed, they were loath to give up what they thought they had and start again from scratch. If it had to be Jackie or Drew, they would stick with Jackie.

Erdely and the editors have suggested that Rolling Stone had its hands tied by a skittish and traumatized source. The Columbia report finds otherwise. The magazine failed to pursue even the paths that Jackie never told it to avoid. There are many examples, but perhaps the most crucial came when Erdely asked for Jackie’s help in tracking down Alex, Ryan, and Kathryn, the three friends whom Jackie spoke to the night of the supposed rape and who come across, in the story, as cruel. Jackie discouraged Erdely, claiming that Ryan had expressed horror to her at the prospect of speaking to the magazine. (This was false.) “Yet Jackie never requested—then or later—that Rolling Stone refrain from contacting Ryan, Kathryn or Alex independently,” the report goes on. “ ‘I wouldn’t say it was an obligation’ to Jackie, Erdely said later. She worried, instead, that if ‘I work round Jackie, am I going to drive her from the process?’ ” And so Rolling Stone, instead of giving the friends a chance to tell their story, simply accorded them pseudonyms, too—Andrew, Randall, and Cindy.

It’s a thought that any journalist who spends months cultivating an indispensable source will understand: How hard can I afford to push? The relationship, with all its inherent fragilities (“I’ve changed my mind—why should I even talk to you?”), has become central; at such a critical moment, any violation of trust or understanding can be fatal. Rather than discharge an ethical obligation to three people Erdely didn’t know—who had a right to hear what they would be portrayed under pseudonyms as saying and doing, and respond to it—the reporter held Jackie even closer. Erdely told the Columbia team that her editors didn’t push her on this. (Woods insisted that he did, before relenting because he “felt we had enough.”) Since it wasn’t in the narrow interest of her story, as she now conceived it, to do otherwise, Erdely went with the path of least resistance that the magazine obligingly opened for her. Alex, Ryan, and Kathryn all told the Columbia team that they would have spoken to Rolling Stone if contacted; what they had to say would have undermined much of Jackie’s story.

Once Rolling Stone committed itself wholly to Jackie’s version, the magazine took it to the limit. Another critical decision came when the editors debated how to construct a key scene whose only source was Jackie. This is the moment, after the supposed rape, when Jackie tells her three friends about what’s just happened. It’s the beginning of the second phase of the story—when Jackie’s friends and community abandon her for fear of harming their reputations. In a draft, Erdely wrote:

The group looked at each other in a panic. They all knew about Jackie’s date that evening at Phi Kappa Psi, the house looming behind them. “We have got to get her to the hospital,” Randall declared. The other two friends, however, weren’t convinced. “Is that such a good idea?” countered Cindy.… “Her reputation will be shot for the next four years.” Andrew seconded the opinion. The three friends launched into a heated discussion about the social price of reporting Jackie’s rape, while Jackie stood behind them, mute in her bloody dress.”

According to the report, Erdely included a boldface note for her editors: “she says—all her POV.” It was a scrupulous move—the writer was letting her editors know that this vivid exchange came entirely from Jackie, a fact that might need to be acknowledged. But the magazine opted for the seamless purity and vividness of the unattributed version. Similarly, when Erdely included in one draft a disclosure that Jackie “refuses to divulge [Drew’s] full name to RS” out of fear, Erdely’s editor, Woods, cut the disclosure, thought about restoring it, then decided to leave it out. One can imagine the impulses competing in the feature editor’s mind—carefulness and transparency on the one hand, the stylistic pleasure of an uninterrupted flow of narrative on the other. It’s a question that comes up in every piece of literary journalism worth the name.

The report’s authors are sympathetic to the dilemma, but not to its outcome: “There is a tension in magazine and narrative editing between crafting a readable story—a story that flows—and providing clear attribution of quotations and facts. It can be clunky and disruptive to write ‘she said’ over and over. There should be room in magazine journalism for diverse narrative voicing—if the underlying reporting is solid.” In other words, Rolling Stone’s mistake was not to leave out attributions but to use flimsy and easily falsifiable material in the first place. “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” Bob Dylan sang—to raise journalism above the artless presentation of facts, you’d better be damned sure of those facts.


Although the report describes the scandal as “another shock to journalism’s credibility amid head-swiveling change in the media industry,” Rolling Stone’s failure doesn’t seem to me to be representative of any larger problem in journalism. It isn’t part of a growing pattern of collapsing institutional standards. It isn’t even a case of the reporter’s having fabricated or plagiarized, which are graver wrongs than credulousness, and far harder to fathom. The Columbia report concludes with various recommendations for how Rolling Stone could restore itself to the good graces of journalism by adopting clearer, more stringent rules on pseudonyms, sourcing, and checking, and for how journalists in general should approach the difficult subject of sexual assault. All of them make sense and should be taken to heart. But, as the report makes clear throughout, the sins of Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her editors at Rolling Stone were basic ones. This wasn’t so much a failure of policies and rules as of conscientiousness in individual human beings. It was a collective failure to resist temptations that arise every day in their work. Faced with a series of decisions and turning points, again and again the magazine took the path that would lead toward what could be called a “better” story. For journalists, that’s what makes the scandal the worst kind—unconscionable, and imaginable.